Kenny Marco at the Brantford International Jazz Festival, 2016 by johnmars.com
On Sunday, September 18th, 2016, the great Canadian guitarist Kenny Marco, returned to his home town and, appeared at the Brantford International Jazz Festival. Ken was once a member of Motherlode, Grant Smith And The Power and, he has also played lead guitar on albums by Etta James and, Jackie deShannon. “When I Die” by Motherlode was #1 across Canada for two weeks in 1969 and, it is still heard daily on oldies radio stations like Zoomer Radio etc. Ken and, John are both from Brantford and, Ken has always been a mentor to John.
Says John: “When I was a kid, I saw Motherlode at the Brantford Collegiate Institute ‘Triple Gym’. What an amazing gig. I and, my then current band (The Martians) were standing there with me right in front of the stage, to see this Motherlode show, just before they went to # 1. This was Stan Baka, my guitar playing buddy and, Kevin Cosman, my bass playing buddy. We were so inspired by these guys when “When I Die” hit the radio. A guy from our home town is on this incredible record? We couldn’t believe it. Brian Jones had just died and, I way truly bummed out. Then, this record amazing record comes along and, you actually knew one of the guys on it, and, you are just a lil’ kid. Wooowie? The soul … the contrapuntal thing they had going on … to this day, I never get tired of that record and, it still sounds great and, sounds right up to this minute and, sounds not at all dated, whenever I hear it on radio. Just the other day, I mentioned the song to my fellow singist buddy Russel deCarle (Prairie Oyster) and, he said the exact same thing to me ~ ‘I can never get tired of that record’. My other dear pal Jack deKeyzer was sitting up with me late one night (and, I am talkin’ 5:30 am) a few years ago and, I played the original 45rpm copy on Revolver Records for him. When it ended, Jack looked at me with his mouth hanging open and, asked me if I could please play the 45 again right away please”.
But, what really makes someone a true blue mentor? John was also very much influenced by Ken’s demeanor, from the time he was young.
“This man was and, still is a total gentleman. I learned from him that, as an entertainer, you should always be humble. He didn’t directly tell me to behave any which way or anything like that ~ I just learned from being around him. He has always had such a truly lovely personality about him. There’s something else that I learned from Kenny when I was just a youngster and, this is really quite funny and, again, it’s not like it was something he was trying to directly instruct me on or anything like that …it just happened one day as I watched Kenny’s fingers absolutely float over that fretboard. Watching his fingers moving like that on that Fender Telecaster was just so nuts to me, as a kid.
Kenny Marco and his (blind) dog Odessa by johnmars.com 1981
It’s like it was that moment where I started to understand that there really is a huge difference between a gift and, a lot of practice and, talent and, a whole lot of practice. Right away, I said to myself ‘OK, John, you are NEVER going to be able to do that. I’m maybe talented, I’m thinking. I’m not freakin’ gifted like that at all. So, I thought to myself, almost right away ~ ‘you’d best pick a different job here!’…I was playing the drums and, I was singing as a kid and, later, I became a singer instead of a guitar guy. I knew that I wanted to be involved in a Rock ’n’ Roll/ R&B band, but, at a young age, I could tell that I was NEVER going to be able to play an instrument on the level of a Kenny Marco. So, I thought to myself ‘You’ll have to find someone who’s that good on the guitar ~ that’s what you are going to need and, it’s not going to be you doing that. Since then, I must say that I have been blessed to work with the likes of Jack deKeyzer, Danny Weis, David Essig, Lloyd Garber, Mike Ardelli and, Stan Baka. All these gifted guitarists! ”.
“Painting” 2007 by John Mars oil on panel 30 1/8” x 24 3/8”
John Mars has an oil painting entering the Permanent Collection of the Woodstock Art Gallery. You will have a chance to see the work soon, as it will be exhibited from October 14, 2016 until January 9, 2017. This will coincide with a major exhibit of photographer Greg Staats work, which has been curated by Patricia Deadman.
Everyone is welcome to attend the opening event on Friday, October 14 @ 5pm, with opening remarks by the director, Mary Reid at 5:30pm.
John’s friend Willie “Big Eyes” Smith died on September 16. He was 75.
Born in Helena, Arkansas, Willie moved to Chicago as a youngster and, his mother influenced him by introducing him to the music of Muddy Waters. Initially, Willie was immersed in the harmonica and, his first great acheivement was playing the harp on Bo Diddley’s 1955 recording of “Diddy Wah Diddy”, while still a teenager.
Willie began hanging around at rehearsals at Muddy Waters’ southside Chicago home and, he once told John the story behind how he got his start in the music business. Says John …
” What Willie told me was that Muddy let him hang out at his house when Willie was just a kid. They didn’t need a harmonica player – they had Little Walter ! But, Muddy liked Willie a lot personally and, for a while, Willie became Muddy Waters’ valet / roadie type of man. Then, around 1961, Willie got a chance to do some fill in work for Muddy’s drummist, Francis Clay. Willie knew that he wasn’t gonna get into THAT band on the harmonica, because the legendary “Little Walter” Jacobs had THAT job? So, Willie picked up on the drums. Everybody was supposed to have a nickname in those days and, for a while, Willie became ‘Little Willie’ but, then Muddy said something like : ‘We already got enough guys who are named Little something or other, I think’ . Little Walter was there and, he’s kinda famous er what ? So anywho, one day, a smiling Muddy Waters looked Willie over and, he said ‘You gotta have a different name other than ‘Little’ – you are ‘Big Eyes’ and, that is how Willie got his nickname from Muddy”.
Between 1961 and, 1964 Willie drummed for Muddy but, the work was not consistent at that time and, Willie became discouraged and, ended up working driving a taxi and, doing restaurant jobs. But, The Rolling Stones and, The Animals helped to bring Muddy’s name to the attention of a previously negligent world. In 1968, Willie went to see Muddy again at a Chicago nightspot and, ended up sitting in on the drums. From 1968 until the end of Muddy’s performing days in 1980, Willie became the drummer and, played on Muddy’s 6 classic Grammy Award winning albums, including “Hard Again”, “I’m Ready”, and, “Muddy ‘Mississippi’ Waters Live” (those 3 discs were produced by Johnny Winter for Blue Sky/Columbia Records, who worshipped Muddy to the point where he got everything right and, Muddy actually started to sell LPs !?).
In 1980, Muddy’s health began to fail and, so Willie co-founded The Legendary Blues Band with fellow Muddy Waters band alumnus “Pinetop” Perkins (piano) and, that same year Willie’s group appeared in the Belushi/Ackroyd movie The Blues Brothers, backing John Lee Hooker on “Boom Boom”. Willie can be seen on the drums in a close-up, in this major motion picture that did so much to promote the songs of roots musicians such as Sam And Dave, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and, Ray Charles. Once again, the world had previously been previously somewhat negligent? But, the roots of Rhythm And Blues and, Rock ‘n’ Roll will never die and, so …
Eventually, Willie and, his group, The Legendary Blues Band, got to open concerts for The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and, Eric Clapton. Besides performing with The Legendary Blues Band, Willie began to make his own solo albums, singing and, playing the drums and, in 2000, he recorded a song that JOHN MARS and JACK deKEYZER custom wrote for him, called “Big Wig Woman”. Willie thought that John’s lyrics for this number were particularily hilarious and, that Jack had executed a very Muddy type guitar lick on the recording.
In February, 13 2011,at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith received a Grammy Award (Best Traditional Blues Album) for his “Joined At The Hip” album with Pinetop Perkins. By this time, Willie was again playing the harmonica on record, as well as singing. Says John Mars …
” I was so glad to see Willie live to see some sort of recognition on his own. Besides his sense of humour, what I remember best about him were casual conversations that he and, I had about all the different types of shuffle beats that drummers like Al Smith (with John Lee Hooker) and, Francis Clay (with Muddy Waters/John Lee Hooker) used to use. Willie was a great shuffle beat drummer and, he liked to talk to me about this type of stuff. I had been a drummist when I was a kid, before I became a singer so, I was always interested in what he had to say about playing the drums. Willie really understood how lazy the little trips on the snare are supposed to feel, when you are shuffling. You’ve got to be a lil’ bit delayed with your snare work, to make it sound cool…you should never clobber the beat. So, he and, I would go over all these cool ‘feels’ in our conversations about how the drums should be played in a blues shuffle or a slow blues. Drumming is all about independence between your hands and, Willie also really knew how to switch all that up. You know, you sometimes reverse what you are doing between the left and, right. Ambidextrous shit !
Willie’s drums had this crazy, swirly, psychedelic finish and, I am pretty sure that they were a really old ‘Stewart’ set from around 1967. I bet that he bought them in a South Side pawn shop or something ? The bass drum, floor tom and, tenor tom all had the resonating heads removed. When Willie packed up his drum set, he would put the big ride cymbal and, other cymbals into the bass drum, then put the floor tom into the bass drum as well and, walk out and, load this pile into his van, then come back for the rest, so that it was just two trips out to the van. He didn’t have any cases for the drums.
I first saw Willie play the drums in around 1972 with Muddy at The Colonial on Yonge Street in Toronto. I was just a kid and, then, a drummer/singer in my own little high school Rock ‘n’ Roll band, John Mars And The Martians with Stan Baka on guitar. We couldn’t go into the bar there at the tavern but, underaged folks like us could sit in the balcony we stayed well behaved and, had enough cake to buy a couple of Cokes. I was in awe at gigs like this. I saw Thelonious Monk at the Colonial with my dad when I was a youngster so, I knew the scene. At that time, going to see Muddy, it was one of those things where you don’t even dream that you will get to meet someone like Willie Smith, let alone later in life, actually become acquainted with him and, have the guy think enough of your writing to get a song from your own self ?
I remember the week that Willie was in Toronto working on recording my song, Big Wig Woman for his Blues From The Heart album with Jack deKeyzer (my co-writer), Michael Fonfara, Alec Fraser and, Al Lerman backing him. Initially, I had a line in there that said something like ‘skinny leg women just bring me down’. Willie made me change the line, saying to me ‘I like the big girls with the real big legs but, I pretty much like the ones with the skinny legs, too. So, I can’t sing that line, you gotta change it, because I can only sing the truth’ “.
Danny Weis (Rhinoceros, Iron Butterfly, Bette Midler, Lou Reed, John Mars) has moved back to California from Toronto. Here is a recent pic of him at Laguna Beach that was taken by his Canadian wife, Michelle Finney.
TERRY SUMSION at Grant Avenue Studio – Photograph by Huggy Bundle
John Mars will be doing his first show in more than 15 months and, will be performing a number of brand new songs as well as a few of his old songs that you may remember. John is pleased to be a part of what will be a totally amazing fundraiser that will benefit a real Canadian Country/Western singing icon. John’s pal, Terry Sumsion has always been one of the musical heroes of John’s own lil’ neighbourhood. Lately, Terry has had an incredible time battling cancer. He’s a fighter, but, he and his family need some help with all of this …. So, let’s kick into gear and, help out !
TERRY SUMSION BENEFIT : 1 pm ’til 7 pm Sunday, April 27 JOHN MARS will be the opening act
So, get there early and, get a good seat !
other acts include the Mercey Brothers, J.P. Riemens, Suzie Sweetman, Stagecoach & Wildwood Flowers
Paris Fairgrounds, Paris Ontario $ 25 order by phone by Visa/Mastercard 519 – 442 – 2823
If you wish to make an additional donation to benefit Terry and, his family, you can arrange this by calling Wayne/Helen Heimbecker at (519) – 756 -7439
On Sunday, April 27th from 1 ’til 6pm musicians and, friends will come together to pay tribute to Terry Sumsion’s musical legacy. All proceeds from the $25 cover charge will go directly to help Terry. It is sure to be a very special day for anyone who takes the time to attend.
At this time, a new DVD of Terry’s music will be released and, you will be able to purchase it at the show. Allow me to tell a bit of the story behind the video project…
On Christmas day, over a Christmas dinner at a friend’s house, my friend and, musical colleague J.P. Riemens explained to me just how serious Terry’s cancer was at that time. J.P. said that he would like to record Terry doing old and new songs “right away” at his own Grant Avenue Studio in Hamilton. God (whoever she is) bless J.P. Right away, I then asked my great friend J.P. what I could maybe do to help out with this entire cause. So, J.P. and, I talked for a bit and, then I quickly had a bit of a brainstorm and, I suggested that, besides J.P. doing his thing and, producing a new record for Terry, we might also be able to arrange to have the entire recording session filmed.
I suggested that I contact our mutual friend Jim Unsworth right away. Jim is a brilliant videographer and, one of the nicest guys in the entire world. A day or so later, Jim dropped what he was doing to come by and, see me about the suggested project. Jim did this although he had never even heard of Terry Sumsion or, his music. Jim Unsworth said that he was in right away just because he is always confident about the opinions and, passions of people like J.P. and, myself.
Jim Unsworth and, I had dinner at the Arlington Hotel in Paris on December 28, 2007 and, Jim immediately agreed to do whatever he could to help. Jim did what he did based on the vibe that if his friends J.P. and, John thought that Terry was terrific – then, Terry must be terrific. During dinner, Jim suggested that I interview Terry about his life and, career, while we were making the film and, I was happy to oblige. Events like this are all about love and, a total spirit of community. And so….
On Saturday, December 29, 2007 – everything came together. Terry Sumsion did an astounding job of cutting 16 songs while only actually only having to do 23 takes in sum total ! Terry wasn’t exactly feeling in the best of health but, he got it all of that done ? This amazing man sang all day long. I was so impressed ! He is a total trooper. Jim Unsworth and, his friend / colleague Dan Copeland bent over backwards to film every minute of the session, using 3 cameras. Some of the songs were done with Terry’s new line-up of musicians including Doug Johnson on guitar and, some were done with his old band , “Stagecoach”(including guitarist/songwriter Wayne Heimbecker) from the 1970’s. Many of you may remember some of the songs from Terry Sumsion’s past, which were huge Country/Western hits in our country – Ie: “Our Lovin’ Place” and, “Midnight Invitation”, especially. Be assured however, that Terry is not just resting on his laurels. He has many new songs or arrangements of old songs that are all included in the new DVD. And, he has a whole new approach to folk/country music that I feel very much akin with. My dear pal J.P. Riemens did a totally amazing job of capturing Terry’s performances ” live, off of the floor” at Grant Ave. “Grant” continues to be one of the world’s finest recording studios and, J.P. Riemen’s is one of the planet’s finest engineers.
Since the time of the December session/film shoot, Terry’s very serious, intensive operation went well and, he is recovering, although he is presently enduring an incredible grind, due to the chemotherapy. Meanwhile , Jim Unsworth and, J.P. Riemens have been relentlessly working on the DVD/CD project and, this type of labour of love on the part of all of the people that truly love Terry Sumsion will soon be available for all to see and, hear. Please come out on the day and, express your own love for the considerable legacy that is Terry’s music.